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Bioinformatics Institute leads the way in NZ

For Immediate Release
27 February, 2004

Bioinformatics Institute leads the way in New Zealand

The official launch today of the Bioinformatics Institute, a research centre funded jointly by The University of Auckland and AgResearch Ltd, paves the way for strengthening bioinformatics research in New Zealand, helping to further establish the country's reputation as a leader in this emerging field.

The Bioinformatics Institute has been established to service the growing biotechnological base in New Zealand. It is situated in the Faculty of Science at the University's City Campus.

Bioinformatics is the melding of biology with computer science to advance research into areas such as medicine, biotechnology, genome research and biodiversity.

The field is inter-disciplinary and focuses on collaborations between biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians and statisticians among others.

Institute director Allen Rodrigo says bioinformatics is a relatively new field but is growing in global importance along with the swift development of biotechnology.

"Good quality information is absolutely critical to research of every kind, but this is particularly true in the area of biotechnology," says Professor Rodrigo.

"The aim of bioinformatics is to use computer technology to extract information from biomolecular and genetic data and turn that information into knowledge to help answer questions in biology, biotechnology and medicine."

He says significant computer power and support is needed to process and analyse the vast array of biological and genetic information that is being shared by biotechnologists around the world.

"Today's science is undertaken as much on the computer as it is in the laboratory, and it's vital that biologists have an understanding of computer science, and for computer scientists to have a knowledge of biology.

"One of the key aims of the Bioinformatics Institute is to promote and stimulate this collaboration and discussion," says Professor Rodrigo.

AgResearch Chief Information Officer, Dr. Phillip Lindsay, says the Bioinformatics Institute will not only develop the field in New Zealand, but most importantly, will develop the expertise of people with specific skills in this area.

"Bioinformatics is a vital part of AgResearch's life sciences research and until now there has been a shortage of graduates trained in this area. The Institute will allow us to nurture and develop graduates with the right skills for the future," says Dr Lindsay.

He says the Institute also provides the opportunity for the two partners to combine their different strengths and develop new capabilities, ultimately resulting in more efficient research.

"This means both organisations will be able to focus research on problems that are of a national significance. The Institute also provides the opportunity to undertake joint projects, thus providing a mechanism for bringing applied research and basic science together."

The Bioinformatics Institute currently has nine researchers, including a Director, lecturer and several postgraduate fellows, while a number of undergraduate students are studying in this area. AgResearch scientists will also be based in the Institute periodically.

Researchers at the Institute are already engaged in a range of scientific activities, including:

* the development of computational models to study the consequences of genetic engineering

* the genetics and epidemiology of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus which causes AIDS in domestic cats

* the development of methods to study the evolution of rapidly evolving pathogens like HIV and Influenza

* the characterization and sequencing of the genome of an environmentally relevant bacterium

* the development of a website for the identification of unknown forensic samples from whales and dolphins

For further information, visit the Bioinformatic Institute's website at www.bioinformatics.org.nz.

-ends-


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